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Newfane holds ‘drive-thru’ voting on school budget

NEWFANE—Three drivers followed the line of orange construction cones to the pop-up tent in the parking lot of the NewBrook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Station on Route 30 on June 10.

Selectboard member Shelly Huber checked off the driver’s name on the voter checklist.She then handed the driver a ballot.

On the opposite side of the tent, Town Clerk Carol Hesselbach dropped a completed ballot into the red wooden ballot box, and checked the driver’s name off a second voter checklist.

In the time of COVID-19 and the need to remain socially distant, what can be easier than drive-thru voting?

Hesselbach and Huber laughed.

“Made sense to me,” Hesselbach said.

The Vermont Secretary of State’s office provided towns with a list of COIVD-19 appropriate adaptations to operate the polls, she noted. One suggestion was to hold the vote outside.

Hesselbach said she then decided to create a drive-thru poll.

“Nobody has complained about it,” Hesselbach said. “They seem to like it.”

She said the turnout to vote on the WRED’s $12 million fiscal year 2021 school budget seemed in line with previous years, which have drawn 125 to 130 voters of the 1,369 registered in town.

Approximately 49 people took advantage of early voting, which is also on par with previous years, she added.

After the polls closed, Hesselbach said she and the volunteers took the ballots from Newfane and Brookline to the gym at the NewBrook Elementary School to be counted.

Usually they use a conference room, but this year, she said, they spread out in the larger space.

A quieter workday

In general, the days have been quiet in Newfane, said Huber, who has liked holding board meetings via remote internet conferencing.

For example, Huber said, it has been handy when talking about pieces of town infrastructure — such as a bridge — to be able to upload a picture for everyone to see.

Not everyone has liked being seen on the internet, she conceded. Still, she hopes the new remote conferencing habits translate into more people participating in town meetings.

The Selectboard is considering installing a large screen in the board’s meeting room, she said. This way, state employees or lawmakers from outside Windham County could attend meetings.

“So, we would have more direct access,” she said. “Overall, the remote accessibility is going to be an asset.”

They brake for voting

Huber pointed to the “vote here” sandwich board sign on Route 30.

Multiple drivers have driven past, seen the sign, hit their brakes, and then backed up, she said.

A large white truck enters the parking lot.

Huber asks the male driver for a name and, since she clearly knew him, joked, “Where do I know you?”

He answered, “I don’t know, from bad dreams maybe.”

Hesselbach cautioned residents not to feel too comfortable with drive-thru voting. She doubts it is how she will hold the August primary or the November general elections.

Hesselbach added that the primary and November elections have the added complication of using the electronic ballot tabulator.

It’s harder to take those new challenges in pandemic terms, she said.

“This is Vermont,” she said. “I’m not sitting outside in November.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #566 (Wednesday, June 17, 2020). This story appeared on page A5.

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